'The book’s concern with the dichotomy between passion and marital security is also outshone by Anam’s forays into social commentary'by Tanjil Rashid / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam (Canongate Books, £14.99)
In The Bones of Grace, Bangladeshi writer Tahmima Anam has, like Herman Melville before her, adopted the quest for a whale as the symbolic centre of a novel. Her protagonist, Zubaida, is a marine palaeontologist who goes on an expedition to Baluchistan to find the bones of the fabled Ambulocetus. The mystery of this marine mammal is matched by Zubaida’s own mystery. She’s torn between two men: Elijah, an American she fell for at Harvard, and Anwar, the suitable boy awaiting their wedding in Bangladesh. She’s also an orphan, the identity of her real parents buried in the subcontinent’s complicated past, much like the skeleton of the Ambulocetus.
Anam weaves together these narratives in a series of imaginary letters from Zubaida to Elijah. The sentimental, second-person address is sometimes cloying, although it may appeal to the kind of audience who might be taken in by the book’s blurb (“this is the story of love itself”). The book’s concern with the dichotomy between passion and marital security is also outshone by Anam’s forays into social commentary, her prose most enlivened when she writes about the world in which her characters live, from the aggression of the Pakistani military to the conditions of labourers in Dubai. It is these sections that remind one of the skill that won Anam the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize with her first book, A Golden Age, which began the Bangladesh trilogy that now, nine years on, draws to a fulfilling close.